Saturday, April 04, 2015

Holy Week, Spring Break--and a Vacation!

I keep wistfully waiting for the time when I can return to blogging more regularly!

It seems there is always some urgent big time-consuming thing. Always a good thing! For example, there was the clergy and spouse retreat, which took three days right when I needed to start thinking about Easter Vigil readings. And there was the opportunity to teach a Shakespeare class for teen theater students, which I am enjoying immensely, but required a good amount of start-up energy the week before that.

So the big urgent thing for the last couple weeks has been scrambling to pull together readers for Easter Vigil, their schedules, creative ideas for dramatic accompaniment and the folks to make that happen: a dancer, a djembe player, bell-ringers, percussion players (and instruments), musicians, music, and children to act out one of the readings. Did I mention scheduling??

This week--rehearsals for those readings! And Holy Week! We have services for Maundy Thursday, Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoon, Good Friday, Easter Vigil on Saturday and Easter Sunday. There are music rehearsals going on as well as my reading rehearsals, so our house--so close to the church now!--will be Holy Week Central. People will be providing meals and snacks for musicians and tech people at my house before each service and during the day on Friday and Saturday. One of my friends is going to hang out at my house to help set up, serve and clean up. It's going to be hectic but exciting!

(Note to self--figure out today or tomorrow what the younger kids and I are wearing for each service and do laundry or shop as needed--and buy ham! Our friends who have hosted us for Easter dinner for the last several years are going to join us this year, since the wife is recovering from surgery. My sister-in-law and I will cook together on Saturday morning, and our friends will bring sides and a dessert.)

After Holy Week, we have spring break, so it will be a recovery week...but also a week of preparation for Chicklet and me--because on the following Monday, when the boys go back to school, we are going on a cruise!

Ever since Papa R and I went on one for our 25th anniversary, I've been wanting to do another one. He hasn't been as eager, not because he didn't enjoy it, but because he's traveled so much in his working life that the thought of getting on another airplane sends him trembling into a fetal position. So he suggested I take Chicklet12. She's the perfect age and temperament--young enough to still be happy hanging out with Mom, and old enough to be companionable. Plus she's homeschooled, so it's easy for her to get away.

We are saying it's in honor of my 50th and her 13th birthdays, since it's about halfway between the two events. :)

We got a super deal through Vacations to Go (4 nights for $250 each), and airfare to Miami was only $150 each, round-trip! It was too good to pass up. Plus I am way overdue to keep a promise extracted from me by friends who love and care about me, that I would take a vacation after our extremely stressful summer last year.

So there ya go. We are going to the Bahamas in about 10 days.

And I got so busy with rehearsals and services that several days have passed since I wrote this! Easter Vigil is tonight!!!

A blessed Easter everyone!!

Monday, March 16, 2015

God At Work

Last week was an exciting week in my ministry life!

From Tuesday night to Thursday noon, Father Rooster and I attended a retreat for clergy and spouses of our Midwest Anglican diocese--an annual event, but this was only our second year. And it was just as inspiring and refreshing as last year! It was wonderful to renew old friendships and former ministry partnerships, and forge new ones, especially among the growing Wisconsin contingent.

Early in the retreat, we went around the room, introducing ourselves and sharing one thing that gave us joy in our ministries. Many of the joys shared were on the other end of suffering, which was a powerful testimony to God's faithfulness. It was so encouraging to hear all that God is doing in many different Anglican settings--on college campuses, in nursing homes, in Latino congregations, among refugees and immigrants, and even at a preschool.

We had five Anglican ministers from Kenya with us too. Because our bishop and a few other delegates had visited them, and they had found it so encouraging, they sent a group to visit us, as missionaries to America! It was such a joy to receive ministry from the Provost of the Anglican cathedral in Nairobi and his wife, their children's pastor, their youth pastor and their pastor of missions and outreach. At the cathedral, they have 6,000 on a Sunday morning (3 services) and over 1200 children, 12 and under. We discovered, mutually, that we have many of the same types of ministry situations, and some that are culturally unique. But there is a ministry of refreshment that outsiders bring, who are in tune with the same vision; they experienced it when Americans came to them, and they brought it, when they came to us! That ministry included a number of prophetic words, that were so clearly from the Lord. Such encouragement!

Our Bishop spoke powerfully on our diocese's vision of "a revival of Word and sacrament, by the power of the Holy Spirit," and his wife taught on faith. She encouraged us to have a bigger vision--to ask for what we need and want to happen in ministry, but also to have our eyes on God's even bigger, grander vision which may take more time for alignment of all the moving parts. 

We also met in small groups and prayed for one another. Both Father R and I received strong confirmations of things God is calling us to personally and at Light of Christ.

Without expecting it, I received an answer to a long-standing question I have often put before the Lord:  How does my work with children's theater fit in with my calling as a pastor's wife? For years, I have felt vaguely guilty (and perhaps a little judged) that the time I spend in theater is time I ought to be giving to my church. Yet I have always felt God nudging me that direction, and (to quote Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire) I feel his pleasure when I am at the theater.

At the retreat, there was a moment when God opened my eyes, and I saw clearly that theater is my outreach ministry! It was like Clarence showing George what it would have been like in Bedford Falls if he hadn't existed. God reminded me of all the people I wouldn't even know if I hadn't started and remained involved in the Kenosha chapter of Spotlight Youth Theater. There is one child I know of who wouldn't be saved! In 18 months, I will no longer have an elementary school-aged child at home, but I had sixteen 8-12 year-olds in my Drama 1 class last session. Through those children, I meet parents and siblings as well. At rehearsals this session, I am starting a weekly prayer time for parents who want to come and pray for their kids, the directors, Spotlight, and all the brand-new families who have joined us. One of these I met through a community theater production we were in together. They are not church attenders; Spotlight is as close as they may ever get! There is a family at our church now, who arrived via Spotlight, and through Spotlight, I have connections with many other churches in town, including men and women in staff positions. I also have adult friends who are great spiritual encouragers to me. 

So I feel a new freedom to embrace theater as a place God uses me, which is totally in synch with his vision for Light of Christ! 

Finally, yesterday at our Sunday morning service we had such an amazing time of blessing and encouraging ministry, called "Signal Fires Sunday" (an image from Lord of the Rings). Even though we are small, our vision is to start new congregations, and we have one at Carthage College which just started up in September. It was such a joy to have them all at our service yesterday. Two students shared about what the Lord was doing among them, and how they were reaching out to a community of veterans, who relished their friendship and their prayer ministry. We also have a deacon (who will be ordained to the priesthood this coming Saturday) who shared his vision for a congregation to be raised up in Racine. These outposts of Light of Christ are so exciting!

The sermon was given by one of our Kenyan brothers, and during the ministry time for all the congregations, he laid hands on Father Rooster and I and prayed for our joint ministry. It was so strengthening and encouraging...and just a bit daunting. It was a big vision he laid out for us, but so much in line with what God is already bringing and strengthening us to do.

Praise be to God for allowing us to participate in His work!

Monday, March 02, 2015


I should be writing a birthday post for the February birthdays, or recapping Beauty and the Beast, the show we just finished up, or posting pictures of my house (I know, I know, some of you have been waiting!!!), plus I have videos I want to put up...--but I have too many other things I want to capture!

There are so many exciting things percolating in my life right now.

(I love that verb, but I realize it may not mean much to some who aren't familiar with a percolator. My mom still uses hers to make coffee for a crowd. I don't know much about it how it works, except that when it gets hot, it boils and bubbles and "perks" as the bubbles break against the little glass window on top. You have to let it perk for awhile while you wait for the coffee to brew. That's how I envision things happening in my life sometimes--bubbling up, heating up, requiring a little more time before they're fully brewed and ready to serve. :)

The newest thing is that I just was asked to teach a 10-week class on Shakespeare for the youth theater program we participate in! It will be Shakespeare education and appreciation as much as it is performance, and I have more ideas than thou couldst waggle a cudgel at! I'm so psyched. It's not in Kenosha; it's in Lake County, one of our sister areas. I'm excited to meet my new students!

In other teaching news, I proposed wrapping up the grammar and writing classes I've been teaching for our classical co-op. We were supposed to go seven more weeks, but we will end in just two more weeks. This feels so freeing to me! As much as Chicklet and I enjoy this group, it hasn't felt like the right fit for us for awhile now. Between the time we spend there, my prep time, and the time we spend on writing homework for MY CLASS, it takes up 2+ days out of our week. I have plans for those two days we'll be getting back!

I think the other moms are happy to get some extra time in their weeks this spring too. One said that the local middle school told her that their 8th graders will have written two 5-paragraph essays in language arts this year. Since my 4th-6th graders have been writing one every week or so, for a couple months now...I feel we are safe to wrap up writing class and spend our spring concentrating on other subjects we haven't been hitting as hard!

At church, I am excited about our healing services on Wednesday nights during Lent. I will be speaking at one of them. We are full of expectation that God is going to work powerfully through these times set aside to listen for his words of life and healing.  And Holy Week will be here before we know it, so as soon as my Shakespeare lesson plans are set, I have to channel my creativity into readers and readings for Easter Vigil.

We are also resurrecting our youth group this spring. It's a small group, mostly boys, but we're going to get them together once a month at our house for worship and prayer with their Sunday School teacher, a wonderful man they all love--and see what happens! We're asking them to lead the group in a simplified evening prayer service, with a couple songs accompanied by those who play guitar and piano. We'll start with a meal--the key to the teenage male heart, right?--and they will also warm up with improv, led by themselves (including B16, who's on a competitive improv team again this spring). We met once already. It was an extra small group, but they all participated and had fun, yet took it seriously too.

B10, B16 and Chicklet have auditions coming up on Friday, for a show that might get cancelled for low turnout. If it does, they want to audition on the same night for a show in Lake County. So that's more exciting and suspenseful than usual! On Saturday, which will be callbacks, B16 has two solos and is singing in three ensembles at Solo and Ensemble competition in Kenosha. So that will be interesting to work out if he's called back. His voice has really been developing nicely this year, and his very experienced voice teacher has been most encouraging.

I'm excited about some house projects I have finally managed to make time for...but perhaps I should put those in a post of their own.

And most exciting of all--Chicklet12 and I have vacation plans for after Easter! But I'm going to save those too. I have Shakespeare scenes to select for tomorrow night, and seven weeks of grammar to condense into two weeks. So I'm going to go give some thought to that before the day gets completely away from me...!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent 2015

You know how sometimes you know God is speaking to you because you keep getting the same message, loud and clear? You know, first you read something that really strikes you. Then you hear the same idea in a sermon. Then you run across Scripture that seems to be saying the same thing?

So for Lent this year, I've been convicted that what I'm supposed to do is rest. I don't necessarily mean getting more physical rest or clearing my schedule...but I'm supposed to rest in the Lord.

My activistic personality has often viewed Lent as a time for cultivating discipline and good habits. Ash Wednesday can feel suspiciously like New Year's Day--a day for making resolutions of self-improvement in my spiritual life. And I won't say I haven't benefitted, some years, from embracing a new discipline.

But this year, God is giving me things to do that aren't do-ing. This morning's psalm, Psalm 37, really spoke to me with action verbs that are all about resting:

Fret not yourself...
Trust in the Lord...
befriend faithfulness...
Delight yourself in the Lord...
Commit your way to the Lord...
trust in him...
Be still before the Lord...
wait patiently for him...
fret not yourself...
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself

It's interesting that "Fret not yourself" is repeated three times in this passage! But it's not just a "stop worrying" message; we are told what to do instead. Trust, dwell, delight, commit, be still, wait patiently, "befriend faithfulness." Such an interesting phrase!! It speaks to me of this steadfast rest in the Lord that I'm feeling called to.

So this year, it's not going to be a "try-harder" Lent. Oh, I am giving something up; we always give up dessert as a family, plus my discipline will be:  Bible before Facebook! It's so easy to mindlessly browse first thing, before my brain gets in gear, but instead of opening up Facebook, I'm going to open up my BCP (Book of Common Prayer) app and listen to the lectionary readings while I'm making coffee. (Priorities!) I want to start my day by trusting, dwelling, delighting, waiting and all the rest. Pun intended, I guess. --All the rest that God wants to pour into me when I rest in him.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happy Birthdays to My Eldests

In November, Blondechick turned 22 on the 22nd--her "golden birthday." We had a party with all "gold" foods (yellow and orange) and also had a quiz on her favorite things ("Things Blondechick Thinks Are Golden").

And a week ago, our oldest turned 24! His only requests were pecan pie instead of birthday cake, and he wanted the whole family to watch "How to Train Your Dragon 2" with him. He also asked his dad to take him and B15 to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. It's the simple things!

In honor of their missed birthdays--a quick update. 

Blondechick has been working at a law firm since September, training to become a paralegal--and she absolutely loves it! Such an answer to prayer. She has been living alone, essentially, on the second floor of a friends' home, but she is about to move into a house with 4 other girls from her church--another answer to prayer! These girls not only cook and eat meals together, they pray and worship together too, so she is excited for that kind of fellowship! She remains involved with the church she began attending last year, when she was enrolled in its School of Worship. She continues to have her ups and downs, but she keeps clinging to Jesus through it all--praise God! We are thankful for how God faithfully keeps working in her life.

Bantam24 still lives at home and still works at a dollar store, usually just one day a week, where he stocks shelves from 5 AM to 10 AM. He may not be their most productive employee, but he is reliable! He sets his alarm for 3:30 AM and has never overslept. Instead of paying us rent, he contributes service at home. It is wonderful to have his help running kids around, picking up groceries, vacuuming, putting out the trash weekly and staying on top of the daily dishes. He runs daily on the treadmill and is at his lowest weight in years. He spends a lot of time gaming and editing/contributing graphic images for Halopedia and Destinypedia. He has many online friends that he games with, and he even began witnessing to one, a depressed veteran of Iraq.

We have recently applied for Social Security Income for him, since it doesn't seem like he's going to be very capable of supporting himself if something were to happen to both of us. We had a lot of testing done and it clearly supports our case. It was sad and sobering to read the report. Yet it made me so very grateful to God that B24 lives a life that is much richer than his diagnosis and abilities would indicate. He enjoys his family, and we enjoy him and his quirks so much. Even though he gets argumentative sometimes about helping, he feels needed and appreciated. (He has told others that his family really needs him--and it's the truth!) God knew what He was doing when he gave us B24 first!

The transition from having dependent children to having young adults hasn't been really smooth with these two (and we still need prayer, if you are so inclined). But God has been so faithful to walk with them and with us through these seasons.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fifty Things I'm Thankful For At Fifty

1. Birthdays. As annoying as it is to be reminded each year that one is getting older, there is a certain accomplishment in completing another year, is there not? Birthdays always cause me to reflect on the previous year and dream about the year to come. Probably because my birthday is so close to New Year's Day!

2. Truisms. "An obvious truth," such as "Older but wiser." I like truisms because sometimes it's reassuring to state the obvious. 

3. Wisdom. Time does have a way of teaching you things you can't learn without living them.

4. Truth. Last night a group of my friends spoke many affirming words to me about who I am. Many of them confirmed and repeated the same ideas, so that I had to believe it was truth. Mercifully it was not the whole truth--the same group could all have agreed on my many weaknesses--but it was wonderful that they were able to identify and water the flowers in my heart's garden. I tend to be more aware of the weeds!

5. Prayer. This group of friends also laid hands on me and prayed for me. What a gift!

6. Powerful images from the Lord. One friend gave me a beautiful picture of what God is doing in my life. He said the Lord showed him a garden that had been cultivated with many perennials, bushes and plants that take time to come to maturity. When they do, it's because of all the labor and effort that was put in during those early years when it seemed like not much was happening. In maturity, the garden is a place of rest and enjoyment.

7. Intercession. Two friends had the same prayer for me--that the petitions I had prayed in secret, the desires the Lord had yet to grant, would soon be fulfilled. Yes, Lord Jesus come!

8. Friends. We've lived in Kenosha for nearly 7 years now. I thought that the fellowship we had at our previous church and neighborhood of 16 years could never be replaced, but God has given me friends beyond what I could have asked or imagined when we first moved here!

9. Papa Rooster. I could probably finish out the remaining list with all the things I am thankful for in my husband, but let's just go with how he understands me and desires to bless and care for me. He organized and facilitated the gathering last night, and he daily speaks words of love and blessing to me. He is such a great father to our children, and pastor to our congregation. I am so blessed that he is stuck with me!

10. My children. Three of them "rose up and called me blessed," at the party last night (to quote Proverbs 31). Teenagers and those not long out of their teens are not known for being particularly appreciative of parental advice and wisdom, but my children depart from that stereotype on a pretty regular basis. I am always so blessed when they do.

11. Brevity. If I am going to get through this list, I am going to need it!

12. Heat. In these frigid temps, I am so grateful that our old house is relatively snug and draft-free, and our ancient boiler is having no problem pumping out the heat!

13. Reliable cars. They start, they run, even in negative temps. I don't take this for granted!

14. Days off of school. (I would say "snow days," but what do we call them--"windchill days"?) We had three in a row and it was fun to have B9 and B15 around.

15. Audiobooks. 

16. The stories of P.G. Wodehouse. Guaranteed to amuse and lift the spirits!

17. ALEKS online math program. 

18. The Harry Potter series. Chicklet12 is engrossed, and I love letting her read all day and calling it school! As long as she also completes her hour+ of ALEKS math.

19. Middle school choir. Chicklet is going to join the public school's 6th grade choir for the rest of the year. The choir director is fabulous, and she doesn't even care if Chicklet misses every Tuesday because of our classical co-op.

20. B15's high school choral experience. Between Madrigals, Jazz Choir and Chorale, he's learned so much and had a blast. 

21. B15's surprise solo yesterday. The Chorale had been selected months ago to sing for a choral director's conference in Appleton, WI, a 2.5 hour drive away, and the school allowed them to go even though school was cancelled. (The Fine Arts administrator made it happen, arguing that it would be like not allowing a sports team to attend a championship game!) It was a singular honor, as they were performing as an example for all the other choir directors at the conference. On the morning of, B15 was told he had been selected to sing the baritone solo in one of their numbers. He was thrilled!

22. Our trip to CA for my cousin's wedding. So happy for him and his new wife! So wonderful to visit my aunt and uncle again too. The visit was too short!

23. My brothers and sisters-in-law. Not just relatives, but friends!

24. My parents, and my father-in-law. Thankful for their good health, their love and support, and their wisdom.

25. That my children are all walking with the Lord. I may worry about circumstances in their life, but I can cling to this truth!

26. This blog. New Year's was my "blogiversary"--nine years since I started keeping this chronicle of family events and  my random observations. It's given me an outlet for writing and helped me hone my style. Thank you, all you who faithfully or occasionally read!

27. Our treadmill. It's served our family well for years. (May it last for many more!) I've recently started walking on it, about 2.5 miles a day in about 43 minutes, which is how long it takes to watch one episode of Once Upon a Time, Season 1. 

28. Netflix. It sure does help me look forward to exercising!

29. Panera. Where I am now, getting some "me time" while my kids are at...

30. Spotlight Youth Theater. So grateful for the experiences and opportunities this company has given my kids, and me. How would I ever have discovered what fun it is to teach and direct drama classes and shows? 

31. That Area Coordinator and friend who first hired me as a teacher, who thought I would be good at iit, even when I argued that I didn't have any drama experience. Thanks to her, and...

32. That director who first invited me to be on a directing team...I now have...

33. Experience! With every new class or cast I direct, I gain a little more. I'm really enjoying the Drama 1 class I'm teaching right now, and the ten-minute scene from The Phantom Tollbooth we are working on for Showcase.

34. The opportunity to use my teaching gifts at Spotlight and at our classical co-op. I really do enjoy teaching in a class setting. 

35. The other families at our co-op who go out of their way to accommodate me and Chicklet12. Our co-op is a blessing!

35. The friend who takes my daughter to CC, allowing me to come later.

36. Homeschooling. This may be my last year for awhile. It may be--still discerning this--but it may be that the Lord has other things for me to do next year. Homeschooling has been such a wonderful option for our kids, and I am grateful for all the years God has given me the grace and the opportunity to do it.

37. Educational options. We have so many choices in this area, although some (charter schools) are only available by lottery. If Chicklet were to go to school next year, I'm not yet sure where it would be.

38. The local elementary school, where B9 is thriving.

39. The high school, a rough place where B15 has found good friends and inspiring teachers. Such a gift!

40. Our church. Lots of good things happening there.

41. Our annual meeting and celebration (coming up in 2 weeks) of all that God is doing among us! I will have more to say after that. ;)

42. Visitors and newcomers. In recent months, we've added a new family that's plugging in and had other visitors who keep coming back. Every person seems sent from God. We need them; they need us!

43.  All that B19 is learning at the School of Worship. What a good experience he's having this year!

44. Blondechick22's job. She's working at a law office and basically being trained as a paralegal. She loves the job itself and the women she works with. What provision!

45. B23's job. Even though it's only 5-10 hours a week, it's enough that he can pay his student loan and give us something toward his phone/car insurance/medical expenses. In lieu of rent he gives us service hours.

46. All the ways B23 helps out--chauffeuring his brothers and sister, grocery shopping, remembering to put the trash out on Tuesday nights, and staying on top of the dishes.

47. Chicklet12 and B9's relationship. They are best friends! Neither of them has made one complaint about having to share a room since we moved in.

48. Our house. Even without the third floor being finished, we are comfortable. Even though I see projects all over (painting, wallpaper removal, windows to wash, splintered and cracked paint to remove or re-do, yardwork), the house is perfectly livable without doing any of them. For which I am grateful--though I chafe to get at them!

49. Our house as a ministry center. We have several groups meeting here weekly for prayer, Bible study and administration, along with other regular but less frequent meetings. Our old house couldn't accommodate these meetings at all--not only was it not centrally located, but the layout didn't give our family anywhere to go if a meeting was taking place in the living room. Here, doors can be closed which give privacy to those meeting, and allows our family to go about our normal routines without interrupting anything.

50. All good things. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." God is good, all the time!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Annotated List of Books I Read in 2014

With routine blown to bits with our move, my book list is shorter than usual. Still a respectable list, considering--thank God for audiobooks!--but I have to point out that a lot of these are...pretty short. :)

Let's start with the children's books, shall we? 

Paddle to the Sea (Holling C. Holling)
Ah, padding my list already, I see. This was one from 2013 that I forgot about till after I published last year's list. If you live near one of the Great Lakes, you MUST find this beautifully illustrated book about a little carved wooden Indian boy in a canoe who travels from Lake Superior through each of the Great Lakes and finally out to the Atlantic Ocean. It takes a year or more, so you travel through the seasons as well as the geography of the region.

The Queen's Smuggler; The Bandit of Ashley Downs (Dave and Neta Jackson)
The Trailblazer series is a fictional series describing the feats of famous Christians as they might have interacted with children of their time period. For example, The Bandit of Ashley Downs is about George Muller, told from the perspective of one of the orphans who came to live in his orphanage, who saw firsthand how God provided meals and furnaces for the orphan houses, (based on actual accounts). The Queen's Smuggler tells how a young girl smuggled a copy of William Tyndale's New Testament into the hands of Anne Boleyn, hoping it will enable her to persuade King Henry VIII to release Tyndale from prison. My kids really enjoy these, especially since each chapter ends with a cliffhanger!

Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Still slowly making our way through this series. So wonderful. If you never read these as a child, treat yourself and read them now!

Pollyanna (Eleanor H. Porter)
This is one of those books I might never have read, but at a garage sale, I couldn't pass up a beautiful edition of it with a purple fabric cover and gilt lettering, because it was so lovely and practically free. Chicklet wanted to read it, but with its 1913 prose, it was beyond her, so it became our book to read when B9 was too tired to read another chapter of Little House. This book is due for a comeback, I think, or at least another movie remake, because it's so in step with the gratitude movement. Pollyanna continually plays "The Glad Game," in which the challenge is for one to find something to be glad about, even in difficult circumstances, and when she invites others to play the game with her, their lives are transformed! I have mostly heard of "Pollyanna" as a pejorative; the actual book paints a positive and helpful picture.

Miracle's Boys; Hush (Jacqueline Woodson)
These are YA books by a black author about black families, sensitively told and well written. I am definitely going to look for more books by this author. Miracle's Boys is about three sons, after the death of their mother, and how they handle the grief and their relationships with each other after one angry brother is released from a juvenile detention center. Hush is about a the family of a black policeman who enters the witness protection program, uprooted from family and friends, given new identities, trying to fit in in a new community. I was listening to this audiobook when everything blew up in Ferguson--apt timing. 

The Silver Chair; The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis)
Listened to these with the younger kids and B23 on road trips this year. We own the Focus on the Family Radio Drama versions, which are wonderful! The Chronicles of Narnia is another series that adults should treat themselves to. Even if you didn't miss out as a child, re-read them as an adult!

On to the grown-up books....

Of Mice and Men; East of Eden; The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
I thought I didn't like Steinbeck. Based on what? --One reading, when I was way too young--4th grade, I think?--of "The Red Pony" (which was horrible, if you were expecting a nice horse story). Oh, and I think I was made to watch a black-and-white movie version of Of Mice and Men at some point. Also very disturbing. 

But now, I am in love with Steinbeck. Wow. What a writer! It probably helps that I have listened to these as audiobooks; the readers doing the dialects accurately adds so much. (Gary Sinise reading Of Mice and Men is an incredible performance.) Although the plots are not feel-good stories, they are so deeply satisfying as life, life with all its messiness and mistakes, but still with a vibrancy that cannot be quenched while there is life. It's hard to say which is my favorite, but East of Eden was the most theologically and spiritually provoking. All these stories were so engaging, I'd make up reasons to stay in the kitchen to keep listening.

Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw)
My library had a nice edition of this play performed as an audiobook. Theologically thought-provoking, as various characters of the institutional church represent different modes of thought, and Shaw does such a masterful job of making each character full of personality--and entertaining!

Green Dolphin Street (Elizabeth Goudge)
I thought I had read this before, back when Papa Rooster and I were collecting books by this author and reading them all avidly, but I think I must only have seen the old movie. The book, of course, is better! This is one of this fine writer's best books, about two very different sisters who love the same man. He is banished to Australia, and writes for his love to join him--but accidentally asks for the wrong sister! This is the story of a difficult marriage and of a love lost and found in God (the real love becomes a nun), which spans a lifetime, as the two sisters are reunited again in their last decade of life. It takes place partly in a harborside town on a windswept, sunny island, and partly in Australia, where the white culture encroaches on the Maori way of life, with resulting unrest and violence.

They Do It With Mirrors; At Bertram's Hotel; Black Coffee (Agatha Christie)
I love Agatha Christie. Consistently good writing and intriguing plots, and the audiobooks are always read by British readers, which is always a delight to the ear. Chicklet12 has started listening to Hercule Poirot audiobooks, because she thinks he's so funny! If you're interested in getting kids started on the Dame, Black Coffee is uniquely accessible, I think. It was originally written as a stage play, so the action is quite direct and it's shorter than most of her books. It's also your archetypal poison plot. :)

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (Alexander McCall Smith)
Another in the series that began with The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. I love visiting Botswana occasionally through these gentle, lighthearted mysteries.

The Alto Wore Tweed, The Baritone Wore Chiffon, The Soprano Wore Falsettos, The Bass Wore Scales, The Treble Wore Trouble (Mark Schweizer)
These were my find of the year! Okay, my friend's find of the year. These "liturgical mysteries" are about the choir director and organist of an Episcopal church, who is also the chief detective of the 3-person police force of this small Carolina town. He also writes really bad noir mysteries in Sam Spade style, with metaphors and similes as convoluted as an octopus's arms wrapped around a squid's tentacles, just as slimy and twice as twisted, qualified with qualifiers as endless as the sea they both reside in. (Ha! Not bad for my first-ever attempt to imitate.) He writes the bad mysteries in installments, which he inserts in the choir's folders so they'll have reading material during the sermon; they are sprinkled throughout each novel for the reader's entertainment as well.

The actual mysteries aren't as intriguing as the antics of a series of priests who serve at the church, which has always been quite traditional until the rector who wants a clown mass, the one who brings in a Feng Shui consultant to rearrange the altar and other furniture and pronounce that the traditional liturgical colors are all wrong, and the one who brings with him a Hungarian dwarf to serve as verger. The request for a clown mass causes the Episcopal church in a neighboring town to request a pirate mass, which is far more successful--and humorous! ("An' on the night 'e was handed over to sufferin' and Davy Jones' locker, 'e took bread, and when 'e had beat the weevils out 'o it...") The cast of colorful characters includes Benny Dawkins, who is a world-class thurifer, with thurible-swinging signature moves like the Tallulah Bankhead, the Big Ben, the Cross Your Heart, and the very difficult Walk the Dog. You don't want to sit on the aisle if you get on his bad side, or you might find yourself knocked out cold with a Double-Inverted Reverse Swan.

In case you're from a non-censing (non-smoking) church, here's a visual:

You can see how seriously thurifers take their job!

Finally, the few, the proud, the non-fiction....

The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding With Christlike Balance (Randy Alcorn)
Another book I actually read in 2013, I think. I rarely finish non-fiction, it seems, but this one was short and so engaging. My experience with Christianity has been heavy on delivering truth to people, but how to also extend grace? This book was fabulous on how to reach out with both, and why one without the other is deadly to unbelievers and believers alike. Lots of great anecdotes probably helped me get through it.

Lives on the Boundary:  A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America's Educationally Underprepared (Mike Rose)
Why? Why out of all the great non-fiction books I have started, would I actually finish a book with a title like this? Well, it helps that I brought it along on the plane to CA, but I did have other reading material. Simply put, I couldn't put it down. The author is now an expert in education, but he came from quite the impoverished background, and barely made it into college, let alone through it. He knows about being educationally underprepared, and he works with college freshman and adult remedial learners, so he had tons of stories woven throughout this account of his own educational experience and what he's learned since. He especially critiqued how we often teach and judge writing, emphasizing grammar, punctuation and sentence structure over expression at the remedial level. He gave varied and poignant evidence that standardized tests don't really assess what students know, especially disadvantaged students. He also examined the huge leap that students have to make between high school and college, and it was interesting to hear how he tutors incoming freshman to think and write, especially students that had little opportunity in high school, forced into remedial classrooms because of language and other barriers. As a parent with 4 kids yet to begin college, I was so intrigued and inspired.

And that concludes this year's list! If you'd like to see other year-end lists, visit Semicolon's round-up of reviews!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December News

My dear California uncle tells me that I must get something new up on my blog so that he doesn't have to keep looking at those candles! My apologies to any other readers who are similarly tired of waiting for a new post here. I have to admit, Advent is gone and the waiting should be over!

It's not really that I've been a slacker. It's been December!

Of course we had Christmas and related activities. Although I tried to keep spending to a bare minimum, I didn't want to deprive our kids and relatives of gifts altogether. I actually had a good time shopping sales and using $10 off coupons at Penney's and Gordman's, 30% off at Kohl's (racking up Kohl's cash too) and using points from our credit card on Amazon. Since I was out--normally, I just don't shop, or shop mainly at Goodwill or St. Vincent's for myself--I scoured every clearance rack for a few things to update my own wardrobe too. Time to retire the t-shirts and hoodies, I think. With a few inexpensive sweaters, I'm now able to wear boots (instead of gym shoes--more practical in the winter) and scarves (gifts I've been unable to wear) with my skinny jeans (score! 2 new pairs at Goodwill).

Not that anyone cares much? But it took a lot of time. And now I should be set for a few more winters! 

For the first three weeks of December, I also continued teaching and lesson-planning for the grammar and writing classes I teach at a classical homeschool co-op, and for the Drama 1 class I'm pulling together my own curriculum for. These last two weeks, it's been nice to be on vacation from teaching!

What else? We attended a Christmas choir concert and a Madrigals feast that I still want to write a post about. I am so amazed and impressed with the quality of the choir experience B15 is having at the public high school.

We had a lovely Christmas Eve service at Light of Christ. B15, Chicklet12 and I were all in the a cappella choir, so we also had a rehearsal the day before. Christmas Eve afternoon was spent cooking a meal with our friends--the ones that we lived with in between houses, earlier this summer--because after the 5:00 service, we had 33 people over for dinner! The plan kind of mushroomed beyond the initial thought, but they totally took it in stride, and we were able to include a number of folks who had traveled and were otherwise without a place to go.

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts and had brunch at home--our first Christmas in our new house--and then traveled into Chicago to spend the rest of the day with Papa Rooster's father, brother, his wife, and our niece. It's such a blessing to have family close enough to do holidays with. Wonderful memories for us all!

We had one day after Christmas to get ready to leave for my cousin's wedding in Southern California! No kids, just us. The two youngest stayed with their aunt and uncle for the first few nights, and then went to other homes they'd been invited to. The 15 and older crowd fended for themselves, and thankfully are completely trustworthy. They made plans with friends and enjoyed the downtime. It was especially nice since they're on vacation from school and regular lessons and classes.

We had a fabulous time at the wedding, particularly because my two brothers and their wives were there without kids either, and we all realized it was the first time this had ever happened! The six of us had so much fun. Without kids interrupting or meals to prepare and clean up after, we could just enjoy being together at the rehearsal dinner, the reception, breakfast, and more.

The wedding was one of those long-awaited affairs; my cousin is 45, an only child and never married. But his lovely bride was worth the wait! And what a small world it is. We discovered so many connections with her family--she used to work with Papa Rooster's cousin; her sister is friends with my cousin's wife; her twin brother lives in the same area where we lived in IL and we know many of the same people. Such a delightful family. It was a special day and a wonderful trip!

Too short, of course. But it's good to be back and have a few days of vacation left to enjoy. Hoping to not do much except write another blog post. 

Watch this space for my year-end review of the books I read this year! I promise it won't be another month. :)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Come, Lord Jesus

Another Advent is here! I love this season, full of mystery, longing, hope and anticipation.

"Come, Lord Jesus!" is the cry of Advent. And there are so many ways I need Jesus to come. So many lives He needs to break many situations that cry out for divine intervention. Having done what I can think of to do, having prayed the prayers I can think of to pray, often the only thing left to do is cry, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

And not only in the lives of others--I need the Lord to come into my life. Distractions cloud my vision, my prayers, my priorities. Advent is a season that reminds me to wake--not slumber--to watch, in the darkness, for the light. I invite God to come again into my life, to re-orient my perspective. "Come, Lord Jesus," my heart cries. "Come into every area of my heart--every darkened corner, every slumbering resolution, every helpless hope, probe every tender spot. I give you access, Lord; come." 

The Advent parable of the ten virgins always speaks to me--the five who weren't prepared and wanted to borrow oil from the five who had brought extra. May the Lord find me not trying to borrow from someone else's faith or experience, but actively engaged in listening to Him and serving Him in the unique ways He's called me. In this parable, there is also the image of waking from slumber and going in to the marriage feast--the promise of joy, the anticipation of fulfillment of all things. Yet there is mystery in this parable. We slumber in the night, as we wait, our lamps burning in expectation of that hour.

The December days may be busy, but the nights--longer and longer as we creep toward Christmas--remind me to pray for the light to break into the darkness. Come, Light of Christ.

But Advent is not all longing and expectation. Even as we pray for his coming into our lives and the lives of those we love, even as we anticipate his coming at the end of all things, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, we rejoice in the Good News:  He came! Advent brings us daily closer to Christmas and the celebration of his first coming. It's a down payment, if you will, that He will make good on his promises.

There is a longing, in Advent, for what we haven't got...for what we need, in Christ. But we can long with anticipation of our hopes being fulfilled, because there has been fulfillment. When we didn't even know our need, Christ came. While we were yet sinners, He died. While we wait in darkness and unknowing, He knows. He is Lord...He will come.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bullet Points

--The younger three kids were in a musical and I never even mentioned it here, even though B15 was cast in the leading role of Peter Pan! Chicklet played a lovely, green-haired mermaid and B9 was appropriately cast as a dirty-faced, tousle-haired Lost Boy.

--Papa Rooster got roped in (pun intended) to "flying" Peter Pan backstage, which turned out to be one of the most strenuous things he's ever done! B15 is a solid 150 pounds, and even with the magic of physics cutting that number in half, 75 pounds is a lot of weight to lift with a single rope. He destroyed a pair of good weight-lifting gloves on the first night, letting Peter Pan descend quickly a couple of times, and he had to order the kind that special forces use to slide down ropes out of helicopters. He still isn't wearing his rings yet. His fingers and forearms were so swollen that week, even though he was constantly icing them.

--He said though it was way harder than he thought it would be, he also had a lot more fun than he thought he'd have! The only sad thing was that he never could watch the show or take any photos at a dress rehearsal. I need to try and get some images from the professional photographer to do a picture post, eventually...

--On All Saints' at Light of Christ, we received 8 new members and baptized 4 children from one of the new families. It was such a wonderful morning!

--A new session of theater began this week. I'm happy to be teaching Drama 1 to a large class of 16 kids, many of them new to our program, and I'm super-excited about the script I've been working on for our final project, based on one of my favorite children's books, The Phantom Tollbooth. B15 is taking Improv, Chicklet12 was thrilled to make it into an audition-only dance class called Project Dance, Jr., and B9 is excited that in his Musical Theater class, they are doing songs from the same Hercules that I helped direct a year ago, and they are going to wear the same costumes!

--Auditions for the winter show, Beauty and the Beast, are this Friday!

--Our Classical Conversations-based co-op is going well--such a nice group of families. However, it was starting to feel like more time than it was worth for Chicklet and me, and I was considering quitting. But there is no one else who can teach the grammar and writing classes that I teach. It was a huge learning curve for me last year--the grammar, especially, is a huge amount of material to present in 45 minutes for a multi-level class, and the curriculum leaves it up to the teacher to decide how to do that. I've had to find or create my own examples, worksheets, games and more.

--They will have to figure something else out for next year, but for this year, they proposed that instead of coming for the whole day, I just come for the classes I teach in the afternoon. (And for lunch, right before that, so we can still socialize!) A friend brings Chicklet in the morning, and another mom stepped in to teach the Fine Arts class I had been teaching in the morning session. We're tried it for two weeks, and that extra morning in my week made a bigger difference than I thought it would! I am so grateful.

--This weekend I am hosting a Golden Birthday Party for Blondechick, who will be 22 on the 22nd, and a baby shower for a friend from church. My goal this week is to deal with remaining boxes and piles of stuff I've unpacked but don't know what to do with. I may end up shoving them all in the attic until next summer.

--One silver lining to not finishing the attic yet is that we can use it as an attic! A couple weekends ago, our strong young men plus a couple of their friends helped us move many boxes and some furniture out of the basement and into the attic. The basement is still a huge unorganized mess, but we're getting there.

--Finally, our decrepit garage was showing signs of not making it through the winter. A few weeks ago, the garage door stopped going all the way up, and we realized it was because one corner of the garage had sunk alarmingly and the garage door track was now at an angle. We knew from the housing inspection that the garage was in trouble--all the sills, which were laid directly on the ground instead of on cement--are rotten, and they can't just be replaced because it's impossible to get jacks underneath the garage walls because...oh, it's too involved. Everyone thought we could wait till next spring to figure it out--but apparently not! A friend who's a builder came yesterday and started work on a temporary fix to save it till next summer. It won't be as simple as just building a new garage, though, because we would not be allowed to build a new garage on the same spot--it's too close to the lot line. I'm just glad we can kick the problem a little further down the road, for now!

--Off to defer more difficulties till next summer...I've got to go select stuff to shove into an attic. ;)

Friday, October 24, 2014

October Eightieth Birthday!

My dad is turning 80 next week! We HAD to get together for such a momentous occasion, but finding even one day that we could all be present--in Ohio--during the school year--proved impossible. Our overlapping day ended up on a Sunday, so Father Rooster could not be present (having just taken off two Sundays in a row earlier in the month). Blondechick and Bantam19 had to leave in the mid-afternoon to be back for work and school Monday morning, but the rest of us were able to adjust our schedules to travel on Saturday and Monday--even Professor Brother and his family, all the way from Kansas!

It was a whirlwind, but it was totally worth it.

For one thing, we were able to take a first-ever photo of ALL the grandchildren! We have previous editions...but either some grandkids weren't born yet, or we were missing some of the young adults. Here they ALL are!

And here they are looking more like they normally do.

One with Grandma and Grandpa...

...and one with me, my brothers, and my parents.

On Sunday morning, we all dressed up and went to the First Baptist Church, where my family has attended for generations.

B15 can't pass a piano without trying it out. :)

Pilot Brother and his Caterer/Coffee Shop Owner wife provided all the food for lunch, snacks, dinner and of course, birthday cake!

"Johnny Q-Whistle Paperlegs" is what the hired man called my dad when he was a kid. "John Henry Dewberry Brown" was another nickname he was saddled with, by his uncle, but the first one is even more colorful, don't you think?

Dinner was a wiener roast!

While we were toasting marshmallows for s'mores, I snapped this picture of the sunset. The trees in this woods are the scenery of my childhood--the backdrop to so many of my memories.

I was pleased with all that was captured in this next photo too. This is the view from the woods behind our house, looking toward the back of the house. The lit-up room is the addition that my parents put on about 15 years ago to their 1960's ranch, in anticipation of gatherings like these. In the foreground, you can see two ropes--one is a swinging rope, the other is to the tire swing that has occupied kids and grandkids for decades on end. With its headlights shining on a car in the driveway, that's a Toro Twister driving across the yard toward the house. My brother and dad use it for all kinds of tasks around the farm, as well as giving rides to the grandkids! Finally, the light directly above the Twister is a utility pole light that comes on every evening at dusk, and has been since I was a kid catching fireflies in its glow.

We wrapped up our day by watching old 8 mm movies. Some of them were 70 years old or more! In the first one, my dad was a kid in swimming trunks playing with a garden hose. It was easy to see where the hired man got the "paperlegs" part of his moniker--Dad's legs were paper white compared to the rest of him! And my, those legs looked familiar--just like Chicklet12's, right now. He was probably her age in the movie, but several of his grandchildren got his long, lean musculature. I had not realized how much B19 resembled his grandfather and great-grandfather, either! 

It was wonderful to see relatives and friends, and also the way the farm used to be--where the fences were, and the old gas tank, and the chicken yard, and the barn without the milk house, and the farmhouse without the front porch, and cows grazing where now there are no fences, and the trees! Today it would take two people to wrap their arms around some of the trunks, but back then one person could have, easily. 

It's a neat feeling to be connected to a place so deeply. I'm so thankful that my brother and his family have relocated there, giving us ongoing reasons to keep visiting there, and Lord willing, to keep the farm going and keep it in the family. I'm thankful that his children get to grow up there, that they have the run of the place the way my brothers and I did, growing up, and that my younger kids have cousins to visit when we go there. 

And I'm thankful for my dad, and his milestone birthday, for giving this goofy bunch a reason to get together and celebrate being us!


Monday, October 06, 2014

God's Victory

Well, I keep thinking, it's an interesting time to be us.

In the last week, we got three pieces of financial news, none of them things you'd want to hear at any time, but especially not when you've just made a big move, stepping out in faith, not knowing how God would provide. 

After the second piece of news, Papa Rooster and I looked at each other and both said the same thing:  "Gideon." It wasn't the first time that image had come to mind, as our resources had been diminished recently, first by new kitchen appliances and then by a new roof. Gideon, you remember, set out to defeat the enemy with a huge army, but God made him send men home, and then more and more men, till he was left with a fraction of his army. The reason? So that it would be clear that the victory would be God's, not attributable to the strength of men.

I'm sure Gideon, after that, wondered how exactly God expected him to defeat a huge army with just a handful of men. But it must have been clear to Gideon that God had a plan, and he would learn what it was once the battle began.

These setbacks--and one of them is a long-term adjustment--have been hugely disconcerting, raising many questions in our minds. But they have not caused us to doubt what God is doing--what we believe He showed us when He led us to this house. Not that He showed us the whole picture, but that it was the next step in what He was ultimately going to do in our family and in our church.

Like Gideon, I'm questioning how exactly He thinks we're going to be able to do this with such diminished resources...and I'm waiting to watch how He does it.

The truth is, we will be fine for awhile--but we may have to live on the money we had set aside to finish the attic (or at least to start the project with). Those plans are indefinitely on hold. It's such a disappointment, especially for Papa Rooster, whose office will have to remain in a corner of the living room (which is something of a sacrifice for the rest of us, too). But another truth is that we CAN live in the house as it is, without the third floor, and for that, we are so thankful!

I know many of you are wondering "What happened to him going full-time with the church?" Our vestry is working on that question! Circumstances are accelerating our need for income from the church. But it takes time for the wheels to turn, and we are still only a small body, with a small budget, and many members of our congregation are in difficult financial situations themselves.

I just keep asking, "How? How, God, are you going to do this?" 

It's possible, of course, that all could fail. We had friends who sold everything and moved overseas to do ministry, certain they were following God's direction, only to have that ministry fall apart. Months later, they were back in the States, starting over, reeling with questions for God. If it could happen to them, it could happen to us, right?

But I don't think it's going to end up that way. I have a peace that passes understanding-- and I'm the one who usually frets over finances. I have a strong sense that God is about to do something--something amazing--not all at once but over time, through Light of Christ. I think it's going to be such a powerful work that the Enemy is making last-ditch attempts to foil the plans of God. 

Our church has had a difficult summer. Papa Rooster has been under such an onslaught, trying to balance two jobs, two moves, teenagers, young adults, church needs and situations--and now financial worries. I can feel the stress too; my blood pressure is creeping up like it did for the first year or so after our move to Wisconsin. (My potassium is low, which could be contributing--at least I can do something about that!) 

Teresa of Avila, I am told, wrote once that she always worried about the new ministries (convents and monasteries) she established that didn't seem to have any difficulties--because they always failed. The ones that went on to be thriving works were always initially met with great opposition.

It has been encouraging to see the rise of intercessory prayer among certain individuals and groups at Light of Christ. My own prayer life has grown tremendously during this difficult season! If the Lord leads you, please pray for this work that God is raising up, that we cannot see clearly yet. We welcome your prayers for us personally too, but I believe we are just part of the bigger thing God is on the verge of doing. It will be His victory!